Oldest-Ever-Found Human Footprints in North America Rewrite History of When We Settled the Continent
As we turn our attention to the stars to search for life on other planets, it's easy to forget that the history of life on our Earth is still being unraveled. Anthropologists only recently discovered more evidence of humans interbreeding with a mysterious sister species to the Neanderthals, and now they've found the oldest human footprints in North America, which may revise estimates of when human crossed over from Asia.
The footprints were found buried in the sand of a beach on Calvert Island, a remote Canadian area accessible only by boat. The first footprint was found in 2014, but over the course of two years, a team from the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria in British Columbia discovered 29 in all, including the footprints of two adults and a child.
The prints were carbon-dated to be between 11,000 and 14,000 years old, placing them around the end of the last ice age, when sea levels were about six to 10 feet lower than they are now.
It was around this time that humans were hypothesized to have crossed from Asia to North America, possibly following the coastlines. According to estimates by the team, the footprints were made in an area just above the post-ice age high-tide line.
"As this island would only have been accessible by watercraft 13,000 years ago, it implies that the people who left the footprints were seafarers who used boats to get around, gather and hunt for food and live and explore the islands," says Duncan McLaren, the lead author of the new research, published in PLOS One.
The dating of the footprints also implies that humans entered the Americas earlier than expected. The footprints may also point to the existence of a phenomenon called 'the Kelp Highway,' a long string of kelp forests that allowed early people to survive along the coasts of North America.
Considering that most ancient books and records were lost or destroyed after only a few centuries, it's amazing that a handful of footprints on an isolated beach in Canada survived over ten millennia to give clues about early human history.